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Retirees honored for years of service rendered to Navajo people

Retirees honored for years of service rendered to Navajo people

By Donovan Quintero
Special to the Times

FLAGSTAFF – When she went to work for the Navajo Nation, the retirement program was in its first year.

This is around when longtime Navajo Nation employee Shirley L. Begay, who was not present at the 23rd Annual Retiree Recognition & Luncheon Banquet, started her journey serving the Navajo people in 1974.

Retirees honored for years of service rendered to Navajo people

Special to the Times | Donovan Quintero
A woman speaks during the 23rd Annual Retiree Recognition & Luncheon Banquet at Twin Arrows Casino Resort on May 10.

On Tuesday, Begay, who is Tséńjíkiní, born for Tótsohnii, and whose grandfathers are Táchii’nii, said she didn’t attend the banquet because she was sick.

The grandmother of 16 said she tried to work for two more years, which would have gotten to 50 years, but it was time to move on.

Begay was honored for 48 years of service to the Navajo people at the retirement banquet.

Begay said she started her long, illustrious career in accounting at the controller’s office (under former Controller Mark Grant), where she worked with the Division of Social Services and the Division of Health in Fort Defiance Agency. She said she was often on the road, traveling to Winslow, Jeddito, Sheepsprings, Gallup, Newlands, and Sanders.

MacDonald’s creation – ‘great step’

The significance of former Chairman Peter MacDonald Sr.’s creation of the Navajo Nation Retirement Plan in 1973 could be felt on Friday at the retirement banquet in Twin Arrows, Arizona, where Begay and 129 other fellow now-former tribal employees were honored for their services.

Fifty-one years earlier, MacDonald signed the long-sought tribal program at what is now the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President. Valley National Bank, which, at the time, acted as the tribe’s trust agent in disbursing the retirement payments, and the Navajo Forest Products Industry, or NFPI, helped the tribal chairman establish the retirement program.

At its height, NFPI employed about 500 Navajo people to harvest 472,716 acres of commercial timber, one of the largest sawmills in the U.S., with a payroll of nearly $2 million. In operation since November 1958, NFPI has produced products such as Navajo pine lumber, pulp chips for paper, mulch and landscaping bark, and various related products.

According to a 1969 report produced by the MacDonald Administration, 8,412 Navajo people were employed in nonagricultural industries in the Navajo Nation, nearly half of whom were female.

Most of the reported nonagricultural employment on the reservation was heavily concentrated in three major industrial categories: services, government, and manufacturing.

Despite the employment boom, the tribe had no retirement plan, as many of the Navajo workers began reaching or exceeding 20 years of employment.

MacDonald said in a Navajo Times news article at the time of the signing that he believed the retirement program was a “great step” for the Navajo Nation.

“It will have many benefits to the Navajo people over many years,” MacDonald said in 1973. “Also, it will help to ensure the tribe’s ability to ensure stability in the tribal government and in the efficient delivery of its services to the Navajo people.”

Diné vote for change

In 1976, the Navajo people voted for change three years later when it unseated Peter MacDonald Sr. and elected Peterson Zah.

Shirley L. Begay said she worked with both leaders and got along well with them.

Retirees honored for years of service rendered to Navajo people

Special to the Times | Donovan Quintero
Over 100 Navajo tribal employees were honored and recognized during the 23rd Annual Retiree Recognition & Luncheon Banquet at Twin Arrows Casino Resort on May 10.

“I worked with those guys. They were pretty good,” she said. “All these years, I worked with the (chairmen) and presidents.”

When she retired, she said she felt sad. She reminded the staff she worked with work with another.\

“I told them to work well together because we are related by clan, so don’t be disrespectful to one another,” Begay said. “And teach the new employees who come on staff. Just work together, help each other, and teach each other because you could learn from them, too. That’s what I did, I tell them.”

She said she and her husband, who’s also retired, plan to travel, perhaps even take advantage of a free trip they were told they could use since one of their daughters works at an airline.

“We are told we can fly for free,” Begay said.

Safeguarding retirement program

The Navajo Nation Retirement Plan Administration Committee, RPAC, is now tasked with safeguarding the retirement program and is supported by the Navajo Nation Department of Retirement Services, which also provides technical assistance.

Delegate Shaandiin Parrish, the chairwoman of RPAC and the Budget and Finance Committee, shared her inspiration with the retirees in a speech she gave at the banquet.

“I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be here,” Parrish said. “And I can’t wait to see to see the leadership that is left in place for our younger generation. Our younger generation have big shoes to fill.”

Parrish, Delegate Carl Slater, who co-chairs RPAC, Controller Sean McCabe, Justice JoAnn Jayne, Charlotte Bigthumb, the Department of Personnel Management Human Resources director, and Arbin Mitchell, the executive director for the Navajo Division of Community Development, make up the retirement committee.

“It’s such a huge responsibility to try to make sure that they they’re able to get the retirement at the time that they request,” said Parrish, who represents Chiiłchinbii’tó, Dennehotso, and Kayenta.

Emerson D. Tsosie, who retired from contract accounting in the controller’s office after 23 years of service, said it was time for the younger generation to take over the helm he had helped steer for over two decades.

“I’ve been there for a while – give it to the younger generation and let them know learn and apply at a point that they can take over as a younger person,” said Tsosie. “I’ve been there for so many years. It’s time to give them a chance and give them the opportunity to go forth with their careers.”

Tsosie, from Fort Defiance, plans to travel, go fishing, and enjoy his retirement.

“I just want enjoy life as it is, you know,” he said.

Celebrating 130 employees

Debbie Nez Manuel, the Navajo Division of Human Resources executive director, said the retirement banquet celebrated the 130 Navajo tribal employees.

“Let’s remember for every closure along the journey of life, we know there is another fresh start that begins. I want to express my sincere gratitude to our relatives for their unwavering service to the nation,” Nez Manuel said. “Today, we celebrate among 130 champions.”

Begay said she is considering contracting with the tribe, which would not jeopardize her retirement benefits.

“I don’t feel that old either,” she said, adding that to work with the tribal government, “You gotta put a lot of love in your heart” to do it.

Nez Manuel said on average, about 40-50 tribal employees retire monthly. Some retirees attend a banquet to honor their services where they’re gifted. This year, the retirees were gifted with native-designed suitcases and appreciation plaques.

Here are the 130 Navajo employees who were honored and recognized at the retirement banquet:

35 years and more of service
Elouise Y. Begay
Shirley L. Begay
Terry Benally
Teresa M. Chee
Cerina L. Dayzie
Roxanne D. Gorman
Aileen Hale-Chee
Paul E. Howard
Eugene Jarvison
Darlene B. Miles
Nancy T. Nez
Roger Peshlakai
Tommy Yellowhair

30-34 years of service
James F. Adakai
Elmer P. Begay
Miranda F. Blatchford
Edison L. Brown
Anthony C. Dan
Suzanne C. Enos
Barbara Johnson
Sylvia C. Kelsey
Lucinda Nelson
Caroline Padilla
Bernice Sage-Yazzie
Chester Stanley
Patsy Z. Yazzie

20-29 years of service
Peggy B. Abrigo
Laura A. Becenti
Donna D. Begay
Stanley Benally
Vera Blackwater
Bernice Boone
Ames W. Brown
Margaret J. Dee
Jesse Delmar
Sylvia Dodge
Betty A. Donald
Elaine J. Henderson
Edwina M. Kee
Arval T. McCabe
Marlene Nakai
Leroy Nez
Linda Y. Patterson
Martha Saggboy
Victoria Seletstewa
Arnold Silversmith
Bernice Skeet
Tiffany A. Tallman
Geraldine Thompson
Joe L. Tisi Jr.
Emerson D. Tsosie
Esther R. Yazzie

10-19 years of service
Jimmy F. Antonio
Louise J. Atene
Rebecca Baker
Caroline B. Barber
Albertson E. Begay
Cynthia B. Begay
Joann Begay
Margie A. Begay
Cecelia A. Belone
Orlando Benally
Melinda J. Bidtah
Arlene Billie
Francis Chischilly
Faralie Coonsis
Pamela Douglas
Vida B. Frank
Darlene K. Gene
Pernell Halona
Norma L. Herrera
Sara Jodie
Amos F. Johnson
Dewayne Johnson
Elmer Johnson
Henrietta C. Johnson
Belinda M. Jones
Veronica A. Jones
Harrison Juan Sr.
Darlene R. Kee
Verna A. Kenneth
Richard F. Kontz
Lydia J. Largo
Maverette Lee
Deborah S. Manuelito
Julia A. Manuelito
Patricia A. Maples
Richard W. Marsh Jr.
Benjamin McCurtain Jr.
Velma Miller
Isabelle J. Natonabah
Sarah Navaho
Sherry Nelson
Manuel W. Notah
Davis Peshlakai
Zella A. Peshlakai
Cassandra J. Platero
Nancy M. Poyer
Steven L. Prince
Della Rockbridge
Daniela Roth
Lois M. Sanchez
Mark Sanchez
Violet P. Simms
Delores Skeets
Durinda Skeets
Herbert Smith
Wilfreda M. Stewart
Edith M. Tahe
Evangeline Todacheeny
DeJuan H. Tolth
Ruby Tom
Ella M. Tsosie
LaVonne Tsosie
Sampson Tsosie
Selina A. Tsosie
Jennifer K. Tullie
Elaine Upshaw
Fitzgerald Upshaw
Melinda J. Wagon
Dolly J. Wagoner
Kelvina M. Whitegoat
Jolena R. Yazza
Louise J. Yazzie
Myrtle M. Yazzie
Nellie J. Yazzie-David

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